What Makes Us Stronger

 

“What the hell are we supposed to do now?!” I asked, panicked and confused. A genuine question – what should a hiker do when posed with such a predicament? Having no experience, I genuinely didn’t know. The worried glances of my friends did nothing to calm me. They knew this was bad.

“Get the hell off the mountain,” one of them said, and we immediately began our frantic, stumbling descent, across boulders now slippery from the melting hail.

“Take care,” someone said, “you don’t want to break an ankle up here, cos then we’ll be in real trouble”.

Real trouble? What the hell was this if not real trouble? As the adrenaline started flowing The happy spell cast by the first half of the day was broken and smashed, and I was dragged writhing, to the the dark side of my brain.

 

This is an exceprt from a guest post I did recently for mental health blog Seeds in the Wasteland which can be found here.

What is it like?

I’ve heard the question posed from time to time “what does it feel like to have ADHD?”. No one has ever, to my memory, asserted this enquiry in my direction, but to be fair, anyone vaguely acquainted with me would know that asking that sort of question would result in too many minutes of their life spent being monologued at. It’s a question that intrigues me, since I have no idea what it feels like to have ADHD. I may as well ask you what it feels like to be neurotypical. Like you, I have no baseline for comparison – I have only ever been this way, so how would I know what it’s like to be any other way. Since my ‘condition’ is down to genetics and wiring, rather than affectation and learned behaviour, I can’t simply try being neurotypical out for size, in the same way as a neurotypical person forgetting their keys is not the same as momentarily being ADHD. And here’s the reason the why the question fascinates me. What you’re really asking is what it’s like to have a different type of brain (ADHD, ASD, colour blindness, dyslexia, left handedness). And I’m particularly fascinated by one type of brain – the neurotypical brain. Neurotypical people are a wondrous enigma with their weird ways. Here’s some:

Queuing: Imagine being able to just stand in a queue and wait for something. IMAGINE! I have been known, when presented with a queue of people waiting to get something that I REALLY want, even if it looks only to be a shortish wait, to either give up completely on having that thing or, should it be available elsewhere, to trek for miles to get it there instead. Neurotypical people – how do you queue? How do you deal with the crushing pain of surging impatience? The anxiety that the person one person ahead of you will have something REALLY LONG AND IMPORTANT to say to the person at the counter? Do you think about other things than the mental torment and endless frustration of being stuck, powerless, humiliated and tormented? How?

Hobbies: I think that one is only supposed to have one or two hobbies, or even none! How is this done? How do you sustain interest in a single subject for any period without getting distracted by 20 others? Is there a knack to passively enjoying a pastime over and over, getting the same level of delight out of it every time? How do you choose the SINGLE BLOODY THING THAT YOU’LL DO OVER AND OVER UNTIL SUCH TIME THAT YOU HAVE NOT ENERGY LEFT TO DO IT?

Boring stuff: the physical pain that is caused by doing dull, repetitive tasks – is it just a dull ache for you, rather than the stabbing, electrified sensory assault that is normal? Do you subdue your fear of doing finances, or workplace bureaucracy with medication like me? Or do you have some other method of quelling the anguish, stress and physical discomfort?

Listening: When you are “listening” to someone, what do you actually think about to stop yourself from talking over them with whatever is on your mind? On the occasion where you do start talking, how do you just say a few appropriate words rather than just rabbiting on about some vaguely related bollocks? How do you “listen” and focus on what is being said without your brain darting around a hundred different things, most not related to the matter in hand? Is there some special technique for that?

Thinking: What does it feel like to just have one thought at a time? How do you decide on that thought, and then sustain it for a period of time? How do you have thoughts about stuff that it’s important to have thoughts about, even when it’s not something you really want to think about? When you sit there an think, do your bowels loosen as your excitement and stress level rocket at whatever it is in your head at that moment?

Concentration: so I get that neurotypical people can concentrate. We have something in common, I can concentrate too! So here’s my question: how do you stop concentrating on something? I’ve seen you people break away concentration when it’s appropriate to do so, and it seems so easy! Then you just go back to what you were doing, so cool! I’m in awe, seriously. Also, how do you concentrate on the thing that you’re supposed to be concentrating on? And when you’ve been hyper-focused for days on one thing that you weren’t supposed to be doing, and no one can get through to you even when addressing you directly, and you’re exhausted and disappointed with yourself for having wasted so much time on doing something when other people would rather you were doing something else, how do you make everything OK? How do you make sure you don’t get fired, or dumped or whatever? Is there a special method for this? And when someone makes you concentrate on something that you’re not really interested in (even though you may have been obsessed and passionate about it days before) for long periods of time, how do you deal with that crushing depression, rabid anxiety, creeping paranoia, self-loathing and incipient inadequacy at not being able to do something so simple and common place? Thoughts please!

I’m genuinely curious. I often surreptitiously observe neurotypical people in wonder, trying to figure out what’s going on in their heads? Someone should do a study or something…

David

This one kinda hacked and cajoled itself out of my brain. The collage base took by far the longest time. It is, without doubt, the most personal piece I have ever produced. Cathartic and therapeutic. It’s highly textured and features a variety of mediums, including Tetley tea! The colours mostly come courtesy of the fluorescent acrylics in Sennelier’s Abstract range. It does, of course, depict Karloff’s iconic Frankenstein’s creation, an analogy I sometimes gravitate to when in reflective mood.

David by Alex Loveless - Acrylic and Mixed Media on Canvas - 60cm x 90cm

David by Alex Loveless – Acrylic and Mixed Media on Canvas – 60cm x 90cm

I don’t write good?

I don’t. To do so would require the summation of a degree of attention to detail and figurative sense that I lack. I’m as bad at grammar as I am at subtle, emotive symbolism. I’m not saying i don’t recognise the existence of these things, and attempt to diligently apply them, I just lack the neurological structure to do this well and consistently. This fact used to irk me. I always saw it as weakness, or perhaps the result of incipient laziness. The result of this is that I write less than I could/should like to. Actually, I write more than ever sees the light of day, because I lack the willpower to overcome my neurological shortcomings to actually finish most of what I write and polish it to the level that I perceive as appropriate. This is a terrible shame. Whatever or not that things that I write are interesting, useful or entertaining to anyone is not really the point. Writing and sharing is a valuable way for me to manage my condition and I should not eschew any therapeutic outlet. Since the 1-standard-deviation-from-the-mean British education system squashed any likelihood that I would consider myself a decent writer since I messed up punctuation and grammar a lot (since I was more interested in writing interesting stuff that making sure I capitalised in the right place), for a large part of my life I did not consider that I could write at all. I turned to making pictures and writing code instead. Via my children, I can see that the education system hasn’t much changed. Luckily I can coach my kids to help them navigate the regression to mediocrity attitudes of the system. Essentially “play their game to the extent to which you are able, and don’t let them get you down, for the future offers a multitude of opportunities to prove them wrong”. It’s like learning to drive, you don’t really start doing it until they stop trying to teach you.

Anyway, my point is, I’ve decided to stop caring so much about getting stuff right in favour of getting stuff out there.  I think this is an important therapeutic step for me and one that has been a long time coming. It should help unshackle me a little to grow and evolve in both the creative and stylistic sense. As such, from here on, I will do only the amount of copy editing that I can muster the energy and time for at any point in time, then publish and be damned. This will lead to errors and ugliness, but also the beauty that blooms through chaos, failures, random mutations, etc. – the very process that fuels both creation and creativity.

The fact that I also lumped in something regarding figurative sense at the beginning of this then largely forgot about it has not gone unnoticed. I’m not going to fix that. I’d rather write this line, something new, than do that. Does that make you uncomfortable?

Aardvark.

ef56%7 sthis is nmuerg

A rambling and indulgent treatise on the nature of art and the confusing and terrifying act of creation

I’ve always felt compelled to create things. The idea of creating and presenting a thing, physical or virtual, always felt like some sort of magic – the evocation of something from nothing, the act of transmogrifying and combining one or more things to instantiate something else. I’ve never been particularly picky about my materials, or the mode of delivery. For me, the creation of computer code, utilitarian as it may seem, is every bit an act of creation as conjuring a figure from a block of stone. Code can be elegant, beautiful, surprising, refined, chaotic, expressive, some would even say sensual – all the things that art can (and probably should to varying degrees) be. It is an act of creation and expression, and one person’s code has an individual style and signature as distinct and diverse as Van Gogh and Claude Lorraine. I don’t want to wax lyrical about writing code though. As someone who uses programming as a way to achieve goals – to solve problems, reduce labour, create insight – I sometimes take pride in the character and delivery of my Pythonic creations, but it is the end, not the means that define my work. As an analyst, the end product is something distinct and remote from the the lines of characters that represent the instructions to the computer that created it. The art is in the deft application of technique and conjuring of value (by way of insight, or maybe automation) that the entire process embodies. This is (somewhat) distinct from, say, someone who produces computer games or applications, where the delivery mechanism is much more intrinsically interwoven within embodiment of the final creation. Good code leads directly to good, and continued, experience. A well crafted game is a conversation between the developer and its customers and often embodies an intimate relationship. Like a painting, the art comes from the shared experience, the invisible (and sometimes very visible) link between producer and consumer. But more so, the act of analysis is more akin to that of archeology than the act of creation. The uncovering of form and meaning in the rubble, soil and silt of data. It is about finding something that is there, so that it may be inspected and appraised. In that sense, it does not in itself fulfill my desire to create, even if I do frequently find it very satisfying and rewarding and requiring of my creativity. For this reason, I have various other creative outlets. Writing is one of them. Another is making pictures. I want to talk about this for a bit.

Coming from a largely non-artistic family, art presented itself to me, rather than being something that I actively pursued. Once I discovered the possibility of using marks and media to make real the bingo tumbler of wacky and unsolicited ideas in my head, the balls just kept pinging out onto paper and later canvas and pretty much any other surface that made itself available to me (a large mural of Judge Dredd adorned my childhood bedroom door). The urge to create was less an ambition of expression, than the crude vomit of a confused and chaotic soul. My early influences spoke largely to my adolescent urges and fantastical daydreams and such the athletic, nearly-nude femmes which tangled with mythical beasts hungrily consumed from voluminous outputs of Boris Vallejo and his contemporaries smeared their salacious and heroic mark on my earlier works. The desire to make pictures of things that looked real was manifest. My desire was not to create high art, but make fantasy real. The contextual backdrop that would later be encroached upon by Mondrian or Picasso or the Tate Modern simply did not exist in my stylistic or visual lexicon. I was aware of them, much as dog lovers are aware of cats, but they held little or no contextual, cultural or emotional meaning to me. The Guernica may as well be a teapot in my kitchen (I don’t drink tea) for all the impact it had on me. Perhaps you’re expecting me to comment on how, once exposed to these deified works of artistic wonderment, I learned understand and appreciate their meaning, their beauty, their inherent glory, their genius. This, however, would be an affectation. Picasso does nothing for me. Or almost nothing. Mostly his works make me feel a little irritable, and occasionally I think they are funny. Picasso started out producing works in the more traditional sense, concerning themselves with realism and topography. There is a clear progression to abstraction through his lifetime. He deserves his standing as a pioneer and an innovator. I have no desire proclaim otherwise and little theoretical, professional or academical grounding to facilitate this. His work simply has nothing to do with me, or at least only in a remote, diluted sense. His influence (and that of countless other artist throughout the ages) is, mostly, and at best, tertiary. Their innovations said little to me emotionally or intellectually, but they did open up my consciousness to a world of possibilities outside of the confines of zombies, space ships and scantily clad maidens.

You see, art isn’t created and isn’t presented in a vacuum. More importantly, it isn’t consumed in a vacuum. Another form of high art that usually leaves me cold is classic music (jazz too). I can as a musician (I’m a mediocre guitarist) appreciate some of the the mastery. Having read something of the theory and technique of J.S Bach’s canons and symphonies and fugues, I can comprehend the intellectual and creative wizardry involved. I have even taken time to appreciate some of the more effusive biographical moments some the the historical backdrop – this context, I am lead to believe, will lead me to a greater appreciation of the beauty and magnificence of his work. It’s all totally amazing. What a proper dude the guy was! It is all ejaculatarily cool. What do I hear now, when I listen to Bach’s The Musical Offering, you know, the one with the brain-bending six-voice fugue (it is pretty impressive), the one that is reputedly “the most significant piano composition in history”, the one that he wrote for an actual king and total groupie (Frederick THE GREAT) which he left bits out as riddles so Freddy could fill them in a bit like the Sunday Times cryptic cross word, the one invoked by quasi-loony Douglas Hofstadter as one of the center pieces of his seminal treatise on ARTIFICAL BLOODY INTELLIGENCE, “Godel, Escher, Bach”, you know, that one? What do I feel? Bored. I get much more out of the knowledge I have about the remarkable piece than I do actually listening to it. I feel no shame in this matter. It is just a fact. Really, much like country and western music, Bach’s voluminous output all sounds the same to me. Not that I believe it to be so, but apparently lacking the emotional machinery to comprehend all of that complexity, it just comes out as the audible equivalent of the brown murk you get when you mix too many colours of paint together. So who is it that does like this stuff? Well, Bach may be musically omnipotent, but his most widely recognised works merely provide a backdrop for other stuff to most people (Air on a G String was used to sell consumer quality cigars back when it was still ok to advertise lung poison) and he’s hardly bothering Little Mix at the top of the Spotify rankings. No, most people, just like me, don’t appreciate Bach and Charles Mingus and Garth Brooks, they merely passively consume them when forced to do so. Why is this? Because they lack cultural and contextual backdrop to make this a likely reality. Art, of whatever form, is consumed not in exclusion, but in the midst of, and almost always because of the contextual, emotional, cultural and societal backdrop in which it is consumed. You simply cannot appreciate what it was like to hear The Goldberg Variations when they were first presented to world in 1741 (in fact given that, from a purely probabilistic point of view, you would not likely have been born of the aristocracy you would have lacked the means and opportunity to experience it). You also (presumably) cannot know what is is like to experience these same musical utterances as the daughter of a socially mobile Asian classically trained pianist who desires for his most cherished to not only appreciate their majesty, but also to be able to play these to perfection before your 18th birthday. You can, however, remember hearing the “duh duh duh duh” bit of Beethoven’s 5th for the first time on some shit ITV sketch show in the 80’s accompanied by the smell of your dad’s farts and the subsequent loss of TV signal when your cat knocked the arial from its perch. However, earlier that very same day you and your mates (well, me and my mates) were huddled round a well worn copy of Iron Maiden’s Powerslave operatically hollering the 3rd chorus of Aces High into the unfeeling ether. That was my social context. It’s one that a Bach enthusiast would find every bit as incomprehensible as I their beloved harpsichord noodling. There is no comprehensible framework for comparative value judgment that I have ever encountered – such a thing is but the bastion of science fiction. Yet my passion for Maiden’s 80’s output will certainly rival that of any classical beard stroker. Back to the decorators of canvas? Picasso can basically sod off. Mondrian? Pictorial equivalent of elevator music (I’m pretty sure I’ve heard Bach played in elevators too). I have the intellectual capacity to understand why I am supposed to value these works so highly, I just lack the emotional framework. Movie posters from the 1950’s and 60’s fill me with joy. The original poster for Forbidden Planet may be in my top 5 pictures of any sort, of all time. Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud can sometimes elicit a positive response, but I can get lost in Derek Rigg’s illustration on the (front and back) cover of Iron Maiden’s Somewhere in Time and Ed Repka’s tasteless and unsubtle works from 90’s death metal sleeves are a kind of magic to me, to this day. Can these joyous works be considered art? And regardless of this, do I want to produce items like these? The answer to these questions are very simple: you’d have to ask the creators and no.

Repetition is the death of art. This is the relief to my core philosophy of art and what it is and for. Art, for me at least, is the evocation of something new, from pre-existing states of affairs, which are presented for consumption and appraisal as ends in their own right. A teacup, no matter how beautiful a design, is not art. It is a nice object. A crude kind of art can be created by presenting that teacup, unchanged, as art. Art is an act of selection and contextualisation. In that sense, the single biggest defining attribute of the concept of ‘art’ is mediation. A painting is just an object until presented for appraisal. A painting can be presented as an object, and not be considered art. The whole Magritte “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” is a dry comment on this very fact. No doubt someone has presented a beuatifal painting to the world with a placard saying “this is not art” (I really can’t be bothered to find out). In such a scenario, it’s reasonable to say that the item itself in NOT ART, but the act is. Just like taking a photo. Anti-art is art, just go ask Marcelle Duchamp, but it is art that is utterly dependant on it’s cultural and physical environment. A disused urinal in a disused lot is not art. However, EVERYTHING presented as art is art – and everything presented as art must be considered within a subjective framework and classified as good or bad, worthy or unworthy. Upon which criteria its quality and worthiness are based is up to the consumer, and is frequently heavily influenced by their social and cultural context and that of their background and that of all their peers and contemporaries. The identity, biography, repute and ability of the creator and his/her subjects are window-dressing to the main act of cultural context. Art is a qualitative invocation of the cultural contexts from which it is brought forth. It is a nodule or blemish on the ever growing and changing skin of cultural history. Art is evanescent, capricious, condescending and crapulent. It is also psychic sugar, the phantasmagoria of the collective conscious and unconscious made visible through the utterances of deranged mediums known as artists. The dominance of context upon the very being of art means that it cannot stand still, since the march of societal and cultural progress, in whatever direction, means that standing still is the same as moving backwards. Continually banging out the same old shit, will go down well with a hard core of devotees (AC/DC made a very long career from doing this) but will age poorly in capricious, meandering reality. The cutting edge of contemporary art (by which I mean, cutting edge at the point of its creation) is so shocking precisely because its creator has brought forth something so new that it is in fact totally alien within the the current social context (cue Arthur C. Clarke quote). Every subsequent homage or blatant rip-off hastens the original towards mundanity and it’s creator towards banality. Thus the creator must muster the superhuman power to further push boundaries (and thus render his previous successes puerile and/or irrelevant) or languish in increasing a kind of static creative senility. Thus there must be restless movement at the vanguard of the arts. To fail to do so would colour all art an incipient, temporal beige, like Polaroid pictures that survived from the 70’s. So I repeat myself: Repetition is the death of art.

This brings me back to me, as it always does and should. I have recently rekindled my love for making pictures of stuff, after a break of over a decade. Why I did this you’ll have to ask my ADHD brain. The point is, since I have a desire to make pictures of stuff, I must choose what I want to make pictures of, and to do that, I must have some sense of why I’m doing it. If my intention is to make ‘art’ I must be cognizant of my social context and settle myself that it’s unlikely that I’ll incarnating colour-swatches-at-scale Rothko-style. But still I look to the wider art and illustration community for answers to the what and why questions. But actual the inverse is the case. You see, the core anxiety I have about making pictures is the infinite number of possibilities available for what to represent, how to represent it, what materials to use, the dimensions and other particulars, how and when to present it and to whom, and any number of other considerations which require attention as part of the act of creation. Whatever it has, it has to be new and other new, destinct things must follow, or else violate the whole ‘death of art’ mandate. If an artist only painted a single picture, reproduced from the same photographic image, his entire career, hundreds of times, the combinations and permutations still inherent in this sequence of acts – subtle differences caused by the environment, the effect of the passage of time and rolling window of context, the effects of age on the artist – are mind boggling in their interbreeding promiscuity. The very concept of attempting to bring something new into the world, however unoriginal or repetitive, given all the possibilities is daunting to the point where I am often completely frozen. There is also the question of a creation’s ‘artistic’ merits with regards to the aforementioned considerations, a thorny and contentious and ultimately confusing subject which only the thinnest of surface sheen I’ve managed to allude to. It’s a brain-mangler when I think about it, which suggests I shouldn’t.

The simple answer is to not create at all, an option that doesn’t feel very real to me for reasons that are probably too voluminous and diffuse to tackle at this point. We’re leave that for another rainy Tuesday. Another option is to, as suggested above, do the same thing, or very similar thing over and over. This act in itself is an artistic statement of sorts in itself, at least if presented as such, and one whose meaning and significance would change over time and whose lasting appeal (if any) would be deeply indebted to the that of the artist. What’s interesting about this point of view, is that it, in some senses, is exactly what typifies accepted and celebrated art. Any producer of art (be it writing novels, taking photos, sculpting, creating wonderful food) has to manifest a profound level of consistency to be taken seriously at all. Any artist whose output from one work to the next bore zero commonality with any previous works of the same artist could barely be comprehended by even the most patient of appraisers. Indeed, quite a degree of consistency, some would argue much too high a degree, is required to garner any attention at all, let alone be taken seriously. As someone with an ADHD brain, this very idea, a reality in all meaningful senses, is an infuriating straight jacket of the spirit and soul. The expectation appears to be that once I have overcome the Herculean act of choosing a subject, form and means for my expression, I pretty much have to stick to that framework, or subtle variations and adjacent progressions for ever. OK, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but major creative U-Turns are usually reserved for the more established progenitors in any artistic genre, and even then are often seen as folly or ‘sell out’. That is an odd kind of hell. It also runs contrary to my own interpretation of the act of artistic as detailed above. To a pathological degree, I derive little value from repeated experiences, and in many cases unavoidable or imposed repetition is psychologically painful and can lead to acute and extreme degradation of my mental and physical health. This is not a metaphor, this is my reality. It is not an affectation, it is, at its most serrated edge, a profound and chronic sickness. It is also an incredible gift, since it allows, or rather facilitates the broad range of my knowledge and experiences and my ability to ramblingly muse thusly. It’s a bit of a gourdian knot (or some such metaphor). The act of creating pictures of things is joyful and theraputic to me. One of the few truly mindful activities I partake in. But realm of the artistic consumer and, worse, the artistic appraiser, and even worse, the artistic community as a whole, terrifies me. When I make things, I’d like them to be seen so that transcend objecthood into some sort of art, however, the idea of actually doing this is daunting. The whole thing is big and confusing and frustrating. Yet still I make things. I’m going to post some here. I’m not sure that that context says about my works. I’m not clear on the what the context of this blog says about, in terms of how (if) people find it and what they think of me as a result. In that sense it’s a piece of interagive art in itself. Let’s make that official shall we?

The blog is art. It’s also an oak tree. And the image tattooed on the inside of your eyelids. Reading this final sentence will propel you into dimensional vortex where only penguins inhabit. Wish you were here?

Where I End and ADHD Begins

There’s a gap in between
There’s a gap where we meet
Where I end and you begin


And I’m sorry for us
The dinosaurs roam the earth
The sky turns green
Where I end and you begin

Where I End and You Begin – Radiohead

ants on the ham sandwich of the inner self

The ADHD brain goes where it pleases. I have very little control of the meanderings of my stable-state brain and as a result my actions can sometimes surprise even me. I always assumed that this was just ‘me’, after all what are we other than how we behave? Then I was diagnosed with ADHD and all that got called into question. When you get diagnosed with something like ADHD a tonne of questions come flooding in like ants into a picnic basket and crawl around the crevices of your consciousness demanding to be swatted lest they eat the ham sandwich of your inner-self. If ADHD suppresses my impulse control, what does that say about my free will? What the hell even is free will (I may tackle this at another point)? Which of my personality attributes are ‘me’ and which are symptoms of my chronic neurological disorder? What does ‘me’ even mean (another one for the backburner)? Do I get to feel less shame about stupid stuff that I’ve done? Can I still take credit for the awesome stuff that I’ve done when some of them were obviously the result of ADHD? What the hell is going on?!

There are some weighty questions there, and ones that concern every human being (if only notionally for many people) and one presumes other sentient beings. These Questions are too weighty to cover in anything less than a car weighted treatise, so I’ll try and tackle a slightly leaner question – where do I end and consequently where does ADHD begin?

The thing is, ADHD affords me a few superpowers – a very broad knowledge base created by my ever wondering attention, the ability to make obscure connections, outspokenness (even when not necessarily welcome), a rabid, insatiable appetite to learn, boundless energy, and many others. There are, of course, flipsides to all these which are far from ‘super’ and various other residual difficulties that I won’t burden you with – I could take either case to make my point, but let’s stay positive eh? My superpowers have lead me to do lots of interesting and wonderful things, but some of these are clearly a direct result of classic ADHD behaviours. So if you discount all of that what is left that I can feel proud of? What exactly is left of me? If you could treat all the ADHD away what would I be left with?

It’s a theme I’ve tackled alone, and with others, on many occasions since I had my diagnosis. It’s not often that you get told that the features by which many that know me (including myself), those that friends and family would most strongly associate with Alex-ness, are symptoms of a neurological misconfiguration. It’s also an (unfounded) worry when you first start to take medication – will I suddenly stop being me and metamorphose into some dull automaton? I don’t think I’ve quite got to the bottom of it, indeed I don’t think you can without tackling the “what is ‘me’?” question, but I think I’m in a reasonably sure state of mind on it. It goes a little something like this.

There are all kinds of brains, and every degree of paisley patterned, technicoloured gradiation between them, but various notable edge cases emerge within the spectrum of broadly normal brain (by which I mean excluding brain damage and profound brain disability etc.). Some of these are ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Dyslexia and Bi-polar to name a few. Broadly speaking, people with these conditions (at least, the lucky ones that aren’t at the extreme edges) can cope reasonably well in society and rarely get singled out as in any way different. You could describe the difference between the ADHD/Neurotypical/ASD/Dyslexic brain as like the differences between computer operating systems like Windows vs Mac vs Linux – they all do roughly the same thing but have different strengths e.g. Windows is better for productivity, Mac is creative and Linux is for going deep. All the similarities are there though – windowed applications, mouse/trackpad control, random rebooting and missing files – but experiencing one tells you only a certain amount about experiencing any of the others. If you’ve only every used Windows, jumping on to a Mac will feel reasonably familiar for about 10 seconds, until the moment you try and do anything meaningful, at which point you will feel very much like you are losing your mind. The situation is worse with brains since you can only ever get to try out your own, or some version of it (you might try to hack the ‘OS’ with some drugs, or do an upgrade via a midlife crisis). From an objective perspective ADHD can only ever be observed and never experienced. The neurotypical brain is just as big an experiential enigma to me as my brain is to a neurotypical person, as is an autistic or dyslexic or colour blind brain to me and Madame Nuerotypical. Yet we find ourselves, as humans, philosophising and pontificating about the bat brain and what it must be like to ‘see’ in sound as if we’ve uncovered something profound. The experiential disparities between two identical twins must seem pretty profound if you’re one of those twins.

Then there’s the question of how I got this way in the first place. There is strong evidence that ADHD is hereditary (anyone who knew my dad could attest to this), but like all hereditary attributes, there is likely an environmental factor. So perhaps something happened to me at the age of 6 or 7 that took what was thus far destined to be normal brain and made it get all mixed-up. It’s plausible and there’s some evidence to back it up. But the possibility that my brain was normal at 6 and then went through some change, from a subjective viewpoint, is neither here nor there. The meds may stabilise my moment to moment experience, but my brain is still structured how it is, they’re not turning back the clock, just adjusting the time a little. No amount of drugs and conditioning and browbeating and guilt and shame is going to change that. If I did manage to change my brain (for better or worse) it is my current baseline that I start from, not that 6 year old brain. The person I could have become, if ADHD were purely environmental, never existed and never can exist. So why concern myself with him?

It’s further arguable that I didn’t get to any state. It’s unlikely that neolithic man had a specific label for people like me. In fact, this is a 20th century disorder and some would argue is only as widespread as it is, from a diagnostic perspective, because the hyper-connected, always-on 21st century world draws it out and exacerbates it. People with my wiring probably had a great time of it roaming the plains as part of a hunting party, only to be stifled by the advent of agricultural society with its relentless monotony and structure. That my brain struggles with the constant noise-dressed-up-as-signal that permeates every corner and crevice of contemporary existence says more about the external world which I inhabit, than my internal state and any perceived problem with it. But even before we all got plugged into the matrix, society was torturing the ADHD brain. Schools are a classic example of this. ADHD people thrive on participatory, practical, visual and direct methods of teaching. “Over there, that’s a gazelle, here’s a spear and a knife, watch this and follow!” The ideological obsession with teaching via structure, theory and rote learning is not particularly great for kids with normal wiring, but it is a special form of torture for the ADHD personality. These kids are climbing the walls because society base-lined on a teaching paradigm that is the antithesis of what ADHD kids need. To add insult to injury, lack of conformity, outspokenness, high levels of energy, and impulsiveness, all very ADHD behaviours, amount to nothing less than aberrant misbehaviour and are punished with an iron fist and worse, exclusion (let me give you a clue here, ADHD kids thrive on human interaction, so what exactly are you trying to achieve?). These behaviours are the bedrock of creativity and invention, and ADHD kids are frequently the provide the energy that is the antidote to the grey, monotonous reality of the modern classroom environment. These behaviours are actively (if often unknowingly) suppressed in the modern educational system. The system is stacked against people like me. I failed GCSE English twice. I would produce intricate works of creativity and maturity, and be cut down because of poor grammar, handwriting and spelling, things that are classic tripping-up points for ADHD kids (and which I still struggle with). Do I write like someone who is poor with the English language? (yes, there are probably typos and errors in this very piece, it comes with the territory, I assume that you can find it in your heart to forgive me?) For years I assumed I just couldn’t do ‘writing’. It took me years longer to realise the inverse was true. In that sense, it is not me but the system that has the problem.

And this is where things bottom out. I am not ADHD, in the same sense ADHD is not me. I do not define this condition and it does not define me. It is just a collection of attributes that a section of the population share to a highly consistent degree. These attributes can be highly beneficial in some situations, and profoundly detrimental in others. Unfortunately the situations in which it is detrimental are extremely common in the modern world. Behaviours attributable to ADHD can’t be compared to a bad mood as the result of a hangover. This disorder, for better or for worse, pervades every part of my internal and external persona. There is no “it and me”, there is just me. I have achieved the things that I have both despite, and because of my allegedly faulty wiring. Put another way, despite modern society’s tendency the frustrate and impede me, I still stand tall. I still manage. I still succeed. Despite the fact that for me it takes harder work and greater levels perseverance, and emotional energy than it does for most people. That I can be proud of. I have a superpower that most people don’t, it’s just hard to use sometimes. However, I am one of the lucky ones, most people with ADHD are considerably less fortunate.

Since I always assumed, in good faith, that I took various actions because I meant to, and still maintain the self-delusion of free-will, all the ADHD diagnosis does is give me is a framework for explanation – many behaviours that seemed out of the ordinary now make more sense. It wasn’t that I just wasn’t trying hard enough to fit in, or to succeed, or to pay attention or to follow through, but rather I am wired differently from most other people. This is me, all of it, for all the good, bad and bat-shit crazy.

So where do I and end and where does ADHD begin? The ADHD starts where I start and ends where I end. ADHD is dead, long live ADHD.

Do Small Things

You have an aunt, or a sibling, or a bezzie don’t you, who you love to pieces but is basically an anal douchebag? You know, the one that, when they walk into your house, tries to conceal palpable distaste at the general disorder and disarray. Like they’re suppressing the mental gag-reflex. You kinda don’t want them to come round, and actively avoid the situation if possible, but they keep inviting themselves because apparently they delight in bringing to your attention the physical manifestation of your chaotic ADHD mind – stuff in places where it has no right to be; evidence of daily/weekly chores procrastinated and postponed into festering piles and dusty sheens; the general sense that, while there is clearly a place for everything, that place is EVERYWHERE. This person thinks that they hide their disdain while making cheerfully wistful comments about the “shabby chic” of your “charmingly lived in” house, perching on the edge of sofa like it might swallow them up, and surreptitiously tidying things away to places from which they may never emerge.

You don’t want to live like this, but there is so much to do, and you have that assignment to do for the qualification you decided to take on a whim, and you need to buy some cheese making equipment because, you know, cheese making, and then there’s that short story to finish writing, all those magazine you bought at the weekend that won’t read themselves and, and, and, and…

THERE JUST NO TIME TO DO ALL THAT OTHER BORING HOUSEWORK STUFF!

You know all these boring chores need doing. You don’t need Lord/Lady Meticulous to project this down their nose at you. It’s like telling a homeless person to get off their lazy arse and get a job – patronising, ignorant and superfluous. Now, no one knows more than you that sorting out the kitchen would make your life so much easier (you have to wash a bowl and spoon EVERY MORNING just to be able to eat breakfast) but it is a BIG JOB. Clearing and thinning down that bookshelf really needs doing (books keep falling off onto your head) but it will TAKE AGES and risks making even more mess when you inevitably fail to finish the job. And then there’s the house work. Don’t mention the housework. It never ends. Every time you get some done more turns up! It’s best to just leave it and do it all as one BIG JOB once a week and then it’s out the way. But that’s such a bloody CHORE.

I hate chores (even the word is tiresome, boring and a bit grotty, like verruca or nasal). They suck. But I also don’t like living in squalor, regardless of how it might have appeared for most of my life. But how do you get round to doing all these BIG JOBS? The answer is actually quite simple – don’t. Don’t do the BIG things, just do small things.

You just thought “ah I see, you’re just another one of those patronising smart-arses like my mum/sister/cat”, didn’t you? But bear with me, I’ll rejoin you in the seething resentment in a short while. But first, here’s something you need to understand.

Stop lumping all the vaguely related tasks into giant unwieldy categories like CHORES, or SH*T THAT I DON’T WANT TO DO. By bundling all the small things into BIG CATEGORIES you conflate them and increase their collective intensity. Wasps are pretty much just annoying on their own, but if you’ve got a swarm of them, THEY WILL STING YOU TO DEATH. It may seem sensible to batch things up into tidy categories, and less stuff is always tidier right? That may be so from comfortable perspective of observing these categories from the outside, but once you delve into any one of them all you’ll find is a assemblage of vaguely related junk that’s gaining entropy and somehow breeding. It’s a bit like that drawer in the the kitchen that’s used to store “stuff”, there’s some things in there you’re certain you never owned in the first place. From whence came they?

Take a simple task – Cleaning a kitchen surface. Cleaning a kitchen surface is just that, purging a worktop of debris and grime. It is not the same as “make all the kitchen clean”. You may claim that “if I just clean that surface, then it’ll look weird and I JUST MUST clean the rest, so best not to start at all.” This is a valid objection, especially for an ADHDer. Not a lot of people know this, but ADHDers are perfectionists, it’s why they never get stuff finished, they set their sights too high. But in this scenario you need to take control of your inner obsessive and calm the voice that screams “I MUST CLEANING ALL THE KITCHEN WITH UNHINGED INTENSITY!” and instead, paradoxically, think about all the other stuff you’d rather be doing. The key here is that cleaning the kitchen surface is easy. It’s small. You can handle small things, right? Don’t conflate it with other small things unless you have reason to. Ask yourself instead, “why must I clean the kitchen surface?” and the answer you will find is “because I didn’t clear it down when I made that BIG SANDWICH earlier”. The small “kitchen surface” task is not related to the big MUST CLEANING KITCHEN task, it’s related to the MUST EATING BIG SANDWICH task from earlier. If you’d cleaned up after yourself you wouldn’t have this task getting in the way of whatever wacky adventure you’re on right now (probably just making dinner). “Ah!” you’re now screaming at your tablet/laptop/phone/cucumber, “you’re telling me to stay on top of stuff, no sh*t Sherlock, but I still MUST CLEANING ALL THE KITCHEN, before I can get myself into the position of staying on top of that task.” This is indeed an astute observation, and so we need some defining principles to get past this apparent impasse. Here’s what you need to do, and do habitually for the rest of your life (seriously, as long as you live. It’s not that big a deal though, keep reading, pleeeease):

  1. Do exactly one more action than you need to achieve any given task, every time you do a task
  2. Break down BIG JOBS into small tasks and only concern yourself with these tiddlers
  3. Make a specific time that is free to do stuff you don’t want to do, and work through your small tasks at that time
  4. Make a specific time to is free to do the stuff you do want to do, and use it frivolously, with impunity and without guilt

Continued after this short digression from my brain

Chronicles of an ADHD Brain Part 1

Let’s break those down a little shall we?

Item 1: Do something extra

Using the scenario stated above you would

  1. Clear/clean the surface
  2. Make the tasty treat
  3. Clear up after yourself

See what happened there? You got a task for FREE! Where you would usually only do 2 tasks (clean and make food) you now did three. So what happens next time you need a BIG SANDWICH? Regard:

  1. Make the tasty treat (since the surface is already clear)
  2. Clear up after yourself
  3. Put the dirty item you just used in the dishwasher

There, another job done – filling the dishwasher! Here’s some other examples of “buy one get one free” productivity magic.

  • Take the rubbish out to the bin when you take the dog for a walk
  • When you read an email, file it or delete it
  • Clear your desk while you’re on a boring conference call
  • When you make dinner, fill a sink of hot soapy water, and wash up as you finish using stuff

Now, you may be tempted to do a cheeky few extra tasks for each main task, and that’s cool, but be careful you don’t accidentally slip into “MUST DO BIG JOB WITH UNHINGED INTENSITY” mode. There will be plenty of other opportunities for claiming your free extra things, no need to gobble them all at once. Patience is needed. Stay calm. Mind like water. Etc.

Once you get into the swing of things, you’ll find that everything is done all the time and you’ll be free to explore the vagueries of crochet. Except, hold on…

Item 2: Make small numbers of monolithic BIG JOBS into a proliferation of small jobs

But what about those jobs that don’t sit snugly around daily routine, like clearing out the garage or, god forbid, THE GARDEN (shivvers cascade down spine). This is what item #2 is for. You’re never going to get around to the BIG JOBS, at least not until forced to (in a moment of weak will and unbridled enthusiasm you invited most of the office around for a dinner party, and now you have to purge the dining table of last year’s Warhammer obsession, not to mention that your attempt at a Banksy style mural on the adjacent wall looks like the faecal smears of a deranged, captive chimpanzee). Assuming this isn’t the case (you don’t really own a chimpanzee do you?) then you’re better off not attempting the doomed project all at once, but instead break it down into lots and lots of quick little tasks of which you can do a couple of a day. It’s like breaking down a big immovable iceberg into cute little ice cubes that you can pop into your vodka and Diet Coke. Do this for ALL of your big projects. Let’s use the dining room situation as an example. The way you could break it may look something like this (do one a day):

  • Buy some sort of storage for your Plague Orcs and Blurgg Marines
  • Put half the little models in said storage (the ones you got around to painting)
  • Put the other half of the little models in said storage (the ones you will NEVER get around to painting)
  • Clear away all the manuals, boards and 19 sided dice and stuff
  • Buy a poster depicting an actual Banksy mural
  • Put said poster on top of chimpanzee scrawl

Write all this down as a list before you attempt doing any of it. Make a plan for doing each item, and then do them sequentially. Merge this list in with the equivalent ones for all your BIG JOBS. Make some time every day to do a few of these tasks. Which brings me swiftly onto items 3 and 4, which I’ll tackle together, since they’re intrinsically related.

Items 2 & 3: Make special times to be productive and frivolous

Here’s the thing, as an ADHDer, you’re actually good at making time for stuff, and you’re frequently weirdly effective at planning and using your time to get obscene amounts of stuff achieved. It’s just that that version of you turns up unpredictably, and only if you’re immersed in one of your focus fits. But here’s the good news, you actually posses those magical delivery skills ALL OF THE TIME. Seriously, you do. You just have to accept the fact that you can only engage them for short periods in situations where you’re not interested in the task at hand. That’s cool, because you only really need to engage them to short periods, but you need to do it consistently, habitually, quasi-religiously. Every. Single. Bloody. Day. Find thirty to sixty minutes a day to do the snoresville tasks. What I don’t mean by that is ‘allocate’ thirty minutes at 9 pm when you usually ‘waste’ your time watching Stranger Things and thus will probably continue to exactly that. I mean carve out that time at a point in the day that you’re likely to be available to do some boring stuff, in the location where it needs to be done, and when nothing else is expected of you. This is not necessarily an easy task in itself, but it’s important. There will be trade-offs and compromises, but believe me, it will be worth it. Find the time, make sure you will not be distracted (thrust some Taylor Swift or Morbid Angel or Kenny G through your earphones) and get cranking through the stuff that needs doing. Start with the routine stuff, then chip off a couple of the ice cubes you carved out of those big icebergs.

And here’s the reward, go through the same exercise to carve out some time for doing ALL THE OTHER FUN STUFF. I know what you’re thinking right now. I do. You’re thinking “but as it is right now, I can use ALL my time to work of all that tasty shiny fun sh*t”. This may well be the case, but how is that working for you eh? Do you really feel relaxed and guilt free? You’re sure you’re not feeling a little torn, guilty, shameful, lest I say it, inadequate, at not having done the stuff that you think you’re actually supposed to be doing? The stuff that needs doing? If you do what I say, you can get on with building that aquarium complex GUILT FREE, knowing that you’ve done exactly enough of ALL OF THAT OTHER BORING CRAP to relieve yourself of the nagging burden of inadequacy. Make the time to do both the fun and the frustrating. Make more time to do the fun. You can do that, it’s OK. It really is. Set yourself free. I DARE YOU.

Here’s what it boils down to: if you’re forcing yourself to constantly trade-off BIG JOBS, you’re having to make BIG DECISIONS which is stressful and tiring and you’re unlikely do the “overhaul the kitchen” project and instead do the much shinier “learn how to make cheese” project (which is actually going to make the kitchen project even more arduous). Do both projects, do all your projects, but for the kitchen project (and its never ending multitude of interbreeding siblings), break them up, divide and conquer, habitualise them into submission.

Back to the unencumbered spite and contempt I promised earlier. Unfortunately, all those annoying adages proffered by those annoying, self-satisfied, meticulous douchebags gain a little credence at this point – “a stitch in time” and “if you look after the pennies, the pounds will look after themselves”, blah, fecking, blah. As with most metaphorical memes, despite the fact that they’re trite, over-worn and generally lame, there’s almost always a grain of reality in there, no matter how irritatingly phrased and asserted. Consequently your sister/vicar/gimp was at least in part correct. If you find her/him/it’s whiny voice echoing around your skull reciting these pithy one-liners and saying “I told you so!” daring you to tell him/her/it to p*ss off, then simply do that. Go on, DO IT. Tell those voices where they can stick their condescending dribble. It will feel good. Then get on with what you need to do because, quite frankly, actually getting your sh*t done is a much bigger smite-to-the-cobblers to people like that than continuing the disarray that they derive so much perverse titillation from deriding you about. Your success is their pain, remember that. INFLICT THE PAIN.

So in summary. Break stuff apart, make time to gratify yourself, inflict pain. Goddit? “When you put it like that,” you’re saying out loud, “what’s not to like?!” And you are correct.